Breathing for Kettlebell Lifting

Relaxation & Proper Breathing for High Performance Kettlebell Training

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Correct breathing is essential for proper kettlebell training. Breath is the basis of movement. Breathing is an autonomic response; we don't have to think about it. When we are born we breath correctly, however environmental stressors and tension can change the natural breathing cycle, which needs to be consciously corrected.

The most prevalent form of breathing for kettlebell lifting is advocated by Pavel Tsatsouline and his Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) school of kettlebell lifting. A sharp exhalation through pursed lips is performed while making a hissing sound. This is reputed to increase what is called "abdominal bracing." This style of breathing is performed in conjunction with high tension kettlebell lifting.

The most difficult aspect of higher levels of training is proper breath work. The ability to synchronize ones breath with the movement of the kettlebell is critical to attaining elite performance levels. It is interesting to note that although breathing is perhaps the single most important aspect of athletic training and performance, it is virtually ignored in almost every training manual, class, course or workshop.

When I lift kettlebells, and teach others to do so, breathing is always in through the nose, and out through the mouth. Breathing always precedes movement. Inhaling through the nose reduces tension in the upper body and lowers your blood pressure. Inhaling through the mouth creates excessive tension in the upper body and raises blood pressure.

I learned how to breath properly from one of the world's leading exponents of integrating breathing with movement, Russian Martial Arts Master Vladimir Vasiliev. It is a relaxed way of breathing that does not create excess tension in the body. Vladimir explains that there is more to breathing than the simple exchange of gases within the respiratory system:

"Another aspect of breathing is its benefit on your muscles. You must continue to breathe deeply to break up the lactic acid that builds in your muscles from exertion. In the Russian Martial Art, we focus our breathing on the enormous network of nerves and blood vessels in our chests. This is the source of your energy. Not that there are never times to refocus your breathing, for instance, from your abdomen like the Asian styles teach. This is all just part of the over all mastery of your breathing."

Proper breathing and relaxation go hand in hand. It is not true that "tension = strength." Tension equals tension. Strength is the synergistic totality of many different things. Incorrect breathing technique while lifting kettlebells will result in more tension and a decrease in both strength and endurance. Excess tension in the body is unhealthy and must be avoided.

Please do not confuse relaxation will structural limpness. In this context relaxation means that you do not tense up more muscle fibers than are necessary for the particular movement that you are performing. You can actually lift more weight by being relaxed and breathing properly than by generating high tension throughout your entire body and breathing incorrectly. High tension lifting impedes the way you breath. It creates blockages and allows power to leak out rather than to flow.

The next time you are working out with kettlebells, perform this experiment. Take a medium to large sized kettlebell and swing, clean, high pull or snatch it for one minute continuously while "power breathing." Rest long enough to recover your heart rate and then do the same thing while breathing in through your nose and exhaling through your mouth without making any loud noises and scrunching your face. Be aware of any tension in your body, particularly your upper torso, neck and face. If you identify any tension in these areas, re-connect with your breathing and remove the tension by relaxing.

Over the course of a few weeks repeat this experiment a few times until you become comfortable with both types of breathing and compare how you feel at the end.